Modern shooters have long planted their roots into the games industry, but sometimes one comes along that is difficult to justify its existence. There have been quite a few, but this current generation brought very early on Army of Two – a largely forgettable game that was catered to “bro culture”. Since it was released so early, it didn’t really have much in the way of competition, thus an equally lackluster sequel, The 40th Day, came not too soon after. Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel is the threequel that very few people wanted, but have Visceral Games and EA finally done enough to justify the bro-fist?
A new game brings a change in protagonists. Depending on whether you are player one or two, you will adopt the Alpha; or Bravo – the latest couple to adopt the steel masks of the T.W.O. (Trans World Operations). While on an escort mission with Cordova – a Mexican politician seeking election by preaching an end to the infamous drug cartels polluting the region, they are attacked by the aforementioned cartel, with the politician being kidnapped in the crossfire. Story has never been the franchises’ strongest asset, but the structure of the beginning of the game really hurts the narrative flow. A predictable plot twist and the subsequent resolution leave a lot to be desired. Banter between Alpha and Bravo comes across as merely a painful attempt to liven up the downtime, which provides uninteresting character development as a result, while the overall depiction of the Mexican drug cartels is too simplistic and clumsy considering its harsh reality.
Running on the Frostbite 2 engine, this run-down depiction of Mexico’s drug war is a peculiar mixture of big open haciendas and darker closed in rooms full of a diverse cast of targets. Rarely do you get put in a situation where there is friendly AI present or some other kind of unique gimmick like flashlights and “sneaking”. This means that usually the bullets are flying before you notice anything else.
Generally the models are okay, with the location layouts being relatively varied in nature; but being asked to install a HD texture patch from the disc before booting up the game to improve the visuals is a worrying sign. Sound design is an ugly combination of generic and repetitive; weapons lack the punch you’d expect, especially from the more devastating kinds; while the music frequently loops either tracks you’d imagine might crop up in a Michael Bay action scene or the tedious signature theme song. To top it all off, none of the voice actors really excel with the delivery of the mediocre script.
When you are playing cautiously, The Devil’s Cartel is a remarkably easy shooter where enemies either hide in their cover or run at you like morons. Occasionally, you might get one or two that are positioned in higher ground or try to flank you, but this level of AI behaviour seldom ever happens. Frankly, the way the game is designed means you will rarely need the help of another person except for an occasional revive. Checkpoints are incredibly generous, with mid-mission stops severely affecting the flow of gameplay. You have access to the Armoury which not only allows you to buy new weapons, masks, armour, and tattoos; but also preview certain weapon builds with a real shooting gallery to get a feel for the weapon, and a customisable mask option. Not everything is unlocked straight away thanks to the ranking system, but being able to trial a new upgrade for a weapon before buying it is a godsend.
You are constantly judged based on how well you kill foes – whether that is via a stab in the back while your enemy is distracted by your partner, or a well-placed headshot on an unaware foe. All of this not only rewards you with cash in the mid-mission checkpoints, it also raises your Overkill meter which can be activated when full for a brief moment of invincibility and unlimited, explosive ammunition to obliterate anything in front of you. It’s a silly and fun mechanic that shows the game doesn’t take itself too seriously, being more akin to Collateral Damage than Hurt Locker. Combining both your own and partner’s Overkill meter makes the damage sustained by anything you open fire on even more intense, introducing slowdown to enable you to pick your targets easily.
As you might expect, co-operative play is pretty key to both playing through the game and also some of its biggest issues. You are able to give orders to them, such as luring fire, breaching doors, and activating their own Overkill meter; but aside from this they are just walking medics with guns. Not once do they feel like a partner, even if they do occasionally man turrets or give you that extra leg up. On the field, they’re relatively competent to the point where they will eventually deal with the oncoming shooting gallery.
This of course includes the odd occasion where you are unable to attack at all as The Devil’s Cartel is riddled with potentially game breaking bugs. While the AI partner getting stuck on a train track sleeper was hilarious to watch, there are other times he will not proceed to the mission objective without some encouragement. Encountering times where, for example, they would not board the chopper when the path is clear, or glitches that resulted in certain functionality being disabled were disruptive to the point of having to reload the game entirely, were just too plentiful to forgive. On top of that, invisible walls were numerous, character model lips don’t move when speaking, and some scripted set pieces come long after you’ve stripped the enemy life bar; all in all – a very buggy game indeed.
It isn’t a particularly long game either, taking around a weekend of balanced gameplay time to complete your first run-through, with the only incentives thereafter being to look at multiplayer matchmaking. Local co-op is about as one might expect, while online is another headache as the lack of a drop-in/drop-out functionality shows just how outdated the franchise is. There are a few contract missions available to play, but these are bizarrely well hidden in the game’s menu screen and aren’t worth your time to begin with. For a full priced game, the package comes across as a pretty shallow experience.
Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel wasn’t exactly high on anyone’s priorities, but at the very least it has one or two high points. To a certain extent, it can be a functional yet silly romp that almost parodies itself with the utterly generic plot and explosive action. In a way, it’s like just about every two star film coming out of the Hollywood machine these days – catering to those who just want to blow stuff up. Not that there’s anything wrong with that per se, but when that same game is a buggy, bland shooter which tries nothing to advance the series beyond a rather predictable plot twist, EA does need to ask itself a very important question: Should the masks be put away? Given that it didn’t set the world on fire on its third attempt, it seems likely that this franchise will be lost in the sea of time.